Jim Obergefell and John Arthur spent more than two decades living quietly together. They were never gay rights activists. Most of their friends weren’t even gay.
“John and I always joked that we were bad gays,” Obergefell recalled, “because the vast majority of our friends are straight couples.”
But when the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013, that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, two new activists suddenly were born — one of whom now stands at the threshold of legal history.
Fifteen days after the high court’s ruling — with Arthur in the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease — the couple flew to Maryland on a medically equipped jet to be legally married on the tarmac. Then they flew back home and learned their marriage would not be recognized in Ohio.
“All I thought was, ‘This isn’t right. I’m p—ed off,'” Obergefell, 48, says now, sitting in the silence of his art-filled condominium in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine district.
The legal winning streak for same-sex marriage is over.
A federal judge in Louisiana upheld that state’s prohibition on gay marriage on Sept. 3, and belittled a string of 20-plus federal court decisions striking down state bans as “a pageant of empathy.”
It was the first time since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013 that a federal court refused to throw out a state’s ban on gay and lesbian marriages.
A promised appeal, like Texas’ appeal of a district judge’s ruling in favor of gay marriage there, now goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.
The ruling came from District Judge Martin Feldman, 80, who was named to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago. Feldman echoed the two judges — both in their 70s and appointed by President George H.W. Bush — who dissented from recent rulings against Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia gay marriage bans in the 10th and 4th Circuits.
Conservatives are rallying around a House bill designed to protect religious people who advocate for traditional marriage — a belief, they say, that is held in increasing contempt.
But supporters of same-sex marriage say the bill actually protects the discriminators — individuals and nonprofits that would deny gay people benefits or services simply because they are married to a same-sex partner.
More than 60 House members — mostly (but not all) Republican — have signed on to the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which was introduced Sept. 19 by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who came to Congress in 2010 on a wave of support from the conservative Tea Party.
Catholic military chaplains cannot be forced to witness or bless a same-sex marriage, nor are they allowed to take part in any marriage counseling retreats that are open to gay couples under new rules issued by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
The rules, sent to chaplains on Sept. 18 by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the AMS, also bar chaplains from taking part in a funeral for a Catholic if that participation “would give the impression that the church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships.”
But the new rules also set out conditions that would allow Catholic military commanders to comply, without violating their beliefs, with rules giving same-sex couples under their command federal employee benefits as required by law.
THIS SUMMER, two Supreme Court outcomes dramatically affected the reality of the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” In the first, a key component of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 was struck down, jeopardizing equal justice under the law especially for black, Latino, and low-income people whose voting rights have historically been assaulted and have continued to be suppressed as recently as the 2012 election. Efforts to increase barriers to voting for people of color, especially those with lower incomes, are already underway in several states. The Supreme Court’s decision was morally shameful.
The decision revealed how politically partisan this bench has become. The conservative justices have aligned themselves with the extreme right-wing politics that has taken over today’s Republican Party—one that has deliberately encouraged and practiced voter suppression against minorities, low-income people, the young, and the elderly.
America has made great progress on racial justice because of the tireless and courageous efforts of many. But the illusory idea of a “post-racial” America is exposed as a lie by this nation’s criminal justice system, the many recent attempts at racially based voter suppression, and now this decision by the Supreme Court.
That same week, the Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional and discriminatory against same-sex couples. The religious community is clearly divided on the issues surrounding marriage equality and what the Bible says about homosexuality. But I believe, along with a growing number of people in the faith community, that equal protection under the law is essential. While some Christians are conflicted about the theological issues involved, they also don’t want churches to be the ones standing in the way of civil rights.
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Rather than a Third Great Awakening I believe we are standing in the threshold of a Great Grace Awakening. It’s a move of the Holy Spirit drawing people away from legalistic and fear-based beliefs to a place some of us would call grace.
On the surface, it may seem to fly in the face of some traditional Judeo-Christian ethics. But it is aligned with a broader, more universal ethic that seems to be developing around genuine Christian love and grace — the very essence of Jesus’ ministry and what makes it so revolutionary — as guiding principles.
Grace is the reason for the incarnation. God became human and walked in our sandals because God knows us and wants us to be known.
Grace says that there is nothing we could ever do that would make God love us less. And grace tells us that there’s nothing we could ever do that would make God love us more. You are loved simply because you are and for all of who you are. Full stop.
In recent weeks, a number of controversial and divisive political questions have dominated the news. Race and voting rights, abortion in Texas, and marriage equality at the Supreme Court have opened anew the scars of old political and cultural wars.
In this conflicted political ambit, the Samaritan's bold compassion is a needed reminder today. Let’s remember to be kind to the stranger, certainly. But just as important is that the story of the Good Samaritan also invites us to imagine ourselves in a different part of this narrative.
Imagine yourself not as the Samaritan seeking to love God and neighbor. Imagine yourself as the person in need. A man on the brink of death. A woman in deepest grief. A man lost in the world. A woman with no hope. Imagine yourself at your most vulnerable, deep in despair with only one hope: perhaps someone will help me.
“If you love somebody, set them free. Free. Free. Set them free.” Of all the songs to come to mind during this Independence Day weekend, this one rings in my head. Sting, the artist, did not have America’s freedom celebration in mind when he coined these words. Honestly, the song has little to do with patriotism; it is more of a ballad of love lost and letting go. Nonetheless I dare to invoke it, as the words resonate with the spirit of autonomy that is so pervasive on July 4. “Set them free. Free. Free. Set them free.”
Each year at this time, our country focuses on liberty, the red-white-and-blue, and “My Country Tis of Thee.” I am grateful to live in the U.S. and the freedom this affords. Yet, what about persons who are not so independent — the unemployed who rely on federal subsidies, children whose schools are closing due to no fault of their own, and yes, the millions of Americans in the prison system? Although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reversed the disparity between crack and cocaine convictions implemented by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the prison rate remains exorbitant. More than 2.2 million are still behind bars. The Texas execution rate is at 500 and counting. Forty-eight percent of persons in federal prisons were convicted of drug offenses, according to The Sentencing Project. A reversal in policy three years ago has not flipped today’s prison numbers. So many are not free.
Following last week's Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, social ideals within the Republican Party are being brought to the forefront as Republican’s begin to strategize ways to gain support for the 2016 election. The Associated Press reports:
At the same time, the Supreme Court rulings supporting gay marriage attracted broad criticism from most 2016 hopefuls, though Paul suggested that Republicans need to "agree to disagree on some of these issues." That foreshadows likely fissures ahead, as Republican contenders face increasing pressure to show more tolerance toward gay marriage with many Republican voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s calling for acceptance.
The Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage, while historic, didn’t settle the issue. In fact, they fuel it.
For President Obama, the repercussions of Wednesday’s ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act will mean review and revisions in hundreds of federal laws. In everything from Social Security checks to Pentagon benefits, gay married couples now must be treated the same way as heterosexual couples.
For gay rights advocates, the twin decision that opens the door to resume same-sex marriages in California bolstered determination to expand the right to wed for gay men and lesbians. The Human Rights Campaign set a goal to achieve that in all 50 states within the next five years.